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Cullen: Opening of new AUT Akoranga Campus Library

Address to open new AUT Akoranga Campus Library

Sir Paul Reeves, Chancellor of Auckland University of Technology, Derek McCormack, Vice-Chancellor, Professor Max Abbot, Pro-Vice Chancellor, distinguished faculty, friends and students of the university.

It is a pleasure for me to be here today to open the AUT University Library Akoranga. Today marks the completion of a $7 million upgrade aimed at better meets the needs of the students of New Zealand's newest and fastest growing university.

A good library has long been regarded as one of the most important assets a university can have. It links students and faculty into a scholarly tradition that extends back in time and across boundaries of geography and discipline. This library is a reflection of the extent to which AUT goes to provide its students with leading edge learning facilities, which underpin learning outcomes of quality and relevance.

The library has had a 175 percent increase in its floor space and more than a 150 percent increase in seating to cater for the predicted rise in Akoranga student numbers.

It also features a number of advanced environmental design features, and carries on AUT's commitment to incorporating the best modern design into its buildings. In the same vein, the library provides state of the art educational resources featuring the latest in information technology.

Since establishing itself as university in 2000, AUT has worked hard to develop a niche for itself, offering students the opportunity to study specialist subjects including non-medical health sciences, sports medicine, bachelor of business studies, art and design, and communications.

With more than 20,000 students studying at AUT, the university is doing an excellent job of providing vocational and professional tertiary education that is employment-targeted, learning-centred and focused on the individual student's needs. AUT is a fine example of a tertiary institution that is engaged with the question of how to produce the well-rounded, skilled individuals that our communities and industries need, and how to marry academic excellence with an appreciation of the way in which the New Zealand economy is being transformed.

It is not surprising that the New Zealand Vice-Chancellors' committee's latest survey of graduate employment rates shows AUT graduates with a Bachelors degree are 25 percent more likely than the average New Zealand university Bachelors' graduate to be in full time employment six months after leaving university.

It is pleasing to see AUT's commitment to building the research base around new disciplines. One of the roles of a university is to reformulate bodies of knowledge so that they are relevant to how we live, how our culture is developing and how we make a living in the world.

AUT is steadily building up its postgraduate numbers, with a 13 percent increase between 2004 and 2005. It is equally pleasing to see that AUT is promoting its own unique model of post-graduate pedagogy. AUT's postgraduate students are encouraged to spend a great deal of their time working in their chosen sector. There is a strong focus on teaching with small student to lecturer ratios. This new library adds a new element to the post-graduate experience with special facilities designed to cater for the needs of AUT's post-graduate students.

As many of you will be aware, my government has been steering the tertiary system away from a model that rewards enrolment numbers and encourages a lowest common denominator approach to course design and teaching. Our ambition is to see a tertiary system that values quality and relevance and provides students with a clear set of educational choices.

Perhaps because it does not carry with it such a long legacy, AUT has been one of the institutions most responsive to that policy direction. I recognise that, to support these developments, tertiary institutions such as AUT need a funding system that rewards educational outcomes and promotes the long term viability of institutions.

Any new funding system must support academic staff who are zealous about their teaching and research, be they in universities or institutes of technology and polytechnics. We need to find ways to foster improvements in the quality of teaching and ensure that learning programmes have better learner outcomes. That of course requires a nuanced appreciation of what outcomes learners are seeking.

Course completion rates are one important indicator. We need to minimise the number of students who enrol in study programmes but get lost in the system through a lack of forward planning or an inflexible bureaucratic process which does not allow them to tailor their study according to their needs, and where they live.

Invariably the outcomes students are seeking go beyond the specific skills for a particular vocation; they are seeking the ability to understand and master new technologies, to negotiate the challenges of a global labour market, and to contribute to a New Zealand society and economy that grows more diverse by the day.

A better funding system is a major focus of work in the tertiary education portfolio this year. My officials are working on identifying more effective tertiary education funding options, and I will be in a position to announce some clear directions towards the end of March.

We are on our way to creating a tertiary sector which provides consistently high quality education that meets international benchmarks and fulfils the expectations of students and employers. The facility we are opening today is an important step forward for the AUT Akoranga Campus and for the North Shore community.

Thank you.

ENDS

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